A survey by PNC Financial Services found that 58 percent of retirees aged 70 and older retired before they planned to do so. For many, this provides an opportunity to pursue an exciting new career path. One way to do this is by returning to the classroom.
One of the most difficult considerations for older students when preparing to go back to school is a fear of sharing study space with teenagers fresh out of high school. However, it is imperative to note that the higher education climate has significantly shifted in recent years toward an older demographic.
According to statistics from the National Center for Education, the enrollment of those aged 25 and over increased by 19 percent between 2003 and 2013. An article in The Atlantic by the American Enterprise Institute’s Frederick Hess backs up this claim, noting that there is a “massive growth in the adult student population in higher education.” According to Hess, this segment of older students is projected to increase another 23 percent by 2019.
Now that you know you’re not alone, you’re ready to begin applying—which can be one of the most daunting parts of this process. There are transcripts to track down that may seem lost to history, recommendations to attain, and then there is the question of the essay. Here’s how to make the process go as smoothly as possible:
Be Selective About Your Recommendations
Younger students will most likely receive recommendations from teachers and academic advisors. Your professional experience will give you a boost when searching for viable recommenders. Do not get distracted by the idea of going back to academic sources from ages ago. Instead, look to professional contacts who will impress admissions committees.
Own the Essay
Do not allow questions that seem geared toward younger people distract you. If the question seems like it doesn’t pertain to you because of your age, you have a number of options:
- Many schools have alternative essay questions for non-traditional students, and it is worth contacting them to see if that is the case.
- Do not shoehorn in your answer. Try to take a parallel track that still pertains to the question.
- Be honest. Your unique path to this degree program is interesting to an admissions advisor. Highlight your leadership experience and maturity in your application.
Consider Online Education
Online education has evolved and is no longer for lonely outliers. Just as it’s now commonplace for some of your favorite couples to bravely admit they met online, the digital revolution means that online education has become more acceptable and prevalent than ever. According to the WCET Distance Education Enrollment Report, as of the fall of 2014, more than one in four students (28 percent) take at least one of their courses at a distance. That made 5.8 million students in 2014, a number that is growing all the time. An online degree is often the most viable option for non-traditional students who need flexibility and have family obligations that college co-eds do not.
Secure Your Financing
The good news is that it might be easier for you to get a loan as a boomer. According to finaid.org, older students (24 years old and over) are eligible for increased Stafford loan limits. However, it is important to consider that boomers are far more likely to have accrued debt already, including mortgages and student loans from the past or for their children. Make sure you take a hard look at your finances to be certain that higher education is affordable at this point.
Choose Your School Wisely
Look for schools that have a high percentage of older students. Resources are available on websites such as The Non-Traditional Student Populations Network that can point you in the right direction. If you are choosing a brick and mortar school, visit the campus to make sure it will be a good fit. Class size can be a major factor when considering a school. Make sure the sizes correspond with the amount of personal attention you hope to receive.
The climate is better than ever for older students entering into academia, and your maturity and level of leadership will help you excel when measured against younger peers with the same degrees. Non-traditional students may soon represent the majority in colleges—meaning it’s time for a change in nomenclature. Put yourself at the forefront of that change.